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Mark Hatfield's life gets film premiere

Documentary on former governor, senator five years in the making.

After five years and more than 50 interviews, a trio of filmmakers have finished a 90-minute documentary about Mark Hatfield, twice Oregon’s governor and 30 years a U.S. senator.

“The Gentleman of the Senate: Oregon’s Mark Hatfield” got its premiere Sunday in front of a select audience at Portland State University. Many were former Hatfield aides who had contributed to the making of the film, which was done under the auspices of the nonprofit Hatfield Project.

But there were Democrats: U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and Mary Sorteberg, wife of U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a one-time Hatfield intern.

There were two former secretaries of state, an office Hatfield held from 1957 to 1959: Republican Norma Paulus, and Democrat Phil Keisling, now director of PSU's Center for Public Service.

Another showing is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12, in Ford Hall at Willamette University as part of Alumni Weekend.

A showing also is planned for George Fox University, where Hatfield taught for years after he left the Senate.

And the Hatfield Project hopes to send video discs to schools and libraries.

Hatfield, a Republican, died in Portland in 2011 after a long illness. He was 89. He held public office 46 years, including the governorship from 1959 to 1967, and U.S. senator from 1967 until 1997.

He was born in Dallas, Ore., in 1922, and grew up in Salem. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Willamette University, he was in the Navy during World War II. He witnessed the after-effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and the French recolonization of Indochina — events that shaped his later opposition to nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War — before earning a master’s at Stanford University and returning to teach at Willamette University.

He remains the youngest Oregonian ever elected governor — at 36 — and the longest-serving Oregonian in the Senate.

(Ron Wyden, the Democrat whose first year in the Senate coincided with Hatfield’s final year, has now surpassed Hatfield’s 30-year mark in Congress. Wyden was in the House 15 years before he was elected to the Senate in 1996.)

The film is the first major assessment of Hatfield; aside from his own 2001 book, "Against the Grain: Reflections of a Rebel Republican," there is no written work focused on him.

Reliance on former staffers

Kevin Curry and Devon Lyon, two former state legislative staffers, were two of the producers.

Curry said he got the inspiration for the film back in 2009, after returning from teaching a class at Linfield College.

“When you start a journey like this, you think you know something about somebody,” he said. “Then you realize you don’t really know.”

Rick Dancer, a former TV reporter and anchor, also was a producer, conducted all of the interviews and narrates the film.

“The most fascinating thing about this project … is that someone can meet you as told by the eyes, ears and voices of the people you worked with,” said Dancer, who also was the Republican nominee for secretary of state in 2012. “I feel I know this man.”

Gerry Frank, a Salem businessman who was Hatfield’s special assistant and chief of staff in the Senate from 1967 to 1992, was the first person interviewed in spring 2010.

The film covers the highlights of Hatfield's career, including his early opposition to the Vietnam War — he was the lone governor at a 1966 National Governors Association meeting to oppose a resolution in support of U.S. policy — and his 1995 vote against a constitutional requirement for a balanced federal budget. The plan fell one vote short of the two-thirds required in the Senate to advance it to the states for ratification.

While Hatfield appears in the film via TV news clips and other archival footage, he was too ill to take part directly.

In addition to numerous former aides, interviewees included Oregon’s two current Democratic senators, Wyden and Merkley — who was an intern for Hatfield in 1976 — and former Oregon Republican Sens. Bob Packwood and Gordon Smith. Packwood was Hatfield’s colleague for 27 years, until Packwood resigned under pressure in 1995. Smith succeeded Hatfield for two terms, until Smith lost to Merkley in 2008.

Bill Clinton, the last of seven presidents with whom Hatfield served as a senator, is also portrayed in the film.

Some of Hatfield’s colleagues from other states are in the film: Republicans Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Pete Domenici of New Mexico and John Warner of Virginia, and Democrats Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. All but Cochran are gone from the Senate, and Byrd and Inouye have died since their interviews.

Controversies touched on

The film does touch on some of the blemishes in Hatfield’s Senate career:

• His 1984 brush with Greek arms dealer Basil Tsakos, who paid Hatfield’s wife $50,000 while Tsakos sought to enlist Hatfield and others to support a trans-Africa oil pipeline. Hatfield was cleared of any wrongdoing; FBI documents released after Hatfield’s death said Hatfield was a bribe target of Tsakos, who was secretly indicted.

• His acceptance of gifts from James Holderman, then president of the University of South Carolina, seeking millions in federal grants. Hatfield was rebuked by a Senate committee in 1992 for not reporting the gifts; Holderman later spent time in a federal prison in an unrelated scandal.

• His final re-election campaign in 1990, during which he was in danger of losing to Democrat Harry Lonsdale, a Bend businessman who criticized Hatfield’s opposition to abortion and support of some timber production on federal forests. and largely self-financed his campaign. Hatfield enlisted the help of Elaine Franklin, then a top staffer to (and now wife of) Packwood, to win with a majority of 54 percent. Franklin is quoted about how tough the campaign was.

“A whole generation of Oregonians has grown up not being able to vote for Sen. Hatfield or see him run for office,” said Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, who also sat on the board of The Hatfield Project. An annual historical lecture series, which began in 1998, bears Hatfield’s name.

One of the project’s goals, he added, was to distribute the film widely “so that future generations can come to know the man the way we all knew him.”

The Hatfield Project website:



(503) 385-4899


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